Letwin finds little choice of secondary schools in Lambeth

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The Independent Online

Despite Oliver Letwin's insistence that he would rather "go out on the streets and beg" than send his children to his local comprehensive, there are some good schools in the shadow Home Secretary's south London neighbourhood.

Unfortunately, half of Lambeth's 10 secondary schools are church schools - putting them beyond the reach of many parents, who complain that faith schools limit their choices. And Tony Blair's passion for church schools means the Government is committed to increasing their numbers.

Only four of Lambeth's secondaries achieved above-average GCSE results last year, of which three were church schools. These included La Retraite Roman Catholic Girls' School, where 61 per cent of pupils achieved at least five good passes. Inspectors judged the school "a very successful and popular school" and noted its "high expectations, both academic and personal".

At St Martin-in-the-Fields High School for Girls, a Church of England comprehensive, 59 per cent scored at least five good passes. But overall, the borough averaged only 40.1 per cent, compared with England's national average of 51.6 per cent.

A spokesman for Mr Letwin said he had not meant to cause offence but wanted to highlight the need to improve choice for all parents. Mr Letwin, who is looking for a school for his 10-year-old daughter Laura, said he would give his "right arm" to go private in the London borough of Lambeth, where he lives during the week.

The comprehensive that so horrified Mr Letwin, who was educated at Eton, is believed to be Lilian Baylis School in Kennington, which came bottom of the London school league tables this year. It was one of 18 failing schools "named and shamed" by David Blunkett after he was appointed Education Secretary in 1997. However, Ofsted inspectors recently praised its improvement. Gary Phillips, the headteacher, said: "It is very upsetting for children and parents to be told their school is no good when they know full well that it is not true."

The issue of faith schools is not confined to Lambeth. If Mr Letwin looked beyond the borough boundaries, he would find that the nearest potential schools for his daughter - apart from Lilian Baylis - are Notre Dame, half a mile away in Southwark, and the Grey Coat Hospital in Westminster, both of which are church schools.